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The Gospel Greats Celebrates 20 Years

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Paul Heil's "The Gospel Greats"
syndicated radio program
celebrates its 20th anniversary

"The Gospel Greats," America's premier nationally-broadcast Southern Gospel music radio program, celebrated its twentieth anniversary in February, 2000, maintaining its long-held distinction as the most popular and widely-heard program of its type ever.

Paul Heil, the program's originator, producer and host, feels this is a significant milestone. "To do something like this for twenty years and, especially, to see the success the program has had is almost unbelievable. We thank God every day for the opportunities he has given us."

The Gospel Greats, a two-hour program originating weekly in Lancaster, PA., presently airs on more than 200 radio stations across the United States and in Canada. That's a far cry, though, from the handful of stations which aired the first program back in February, 1980. The very first station to sign up was WRIS in Roanoke, Virginia. That station still carries the program.


A centerpiece of the program's on-air celebration was the program's 20th Anniversary Edition which aired the weekend of February 5th. For the first time ever, the program had a co-host—George Younce, the beloved former bass singer for the Cathedral Quartet. Voice tracks for the program were recorded at Younce's home in Stow, Ohio.  (See separate story and photos.)  Many other well-known artists also provided recorded congratulatory comments for the unusual special edition.

Why is The Gospel Greats program so popular?  Singing News magazine, in an article in its February, 2000, issue about the anniversary said, "Paul's commitment and dedication to producing a quality program each time he steps up to the microphone has, no doubt, assisted in making The Gospel Greats the huge success it is today."


Although the program's name, The Gospel Greats, has become well known nationally over the past two decades, Heil says he can't remember exactly how he came up with it. "I remember making a list of all the possible names I could think of for such a program. The Gospel Greats was on that list and, I suppose, it's what was left after the rest were eliminated. It does have a certain alliteration to it that makes it easy to remember—and for me to say. I do have to be careful, though. I've received more than one letter over the years addressed to 'The Gospel Grapes.'"

Heil, who will celebrate 35 years in broadcasting later this year, has been interested in radio networking and syndication since childhood. After about 15 years as a radio and then television news director, he decided to bring together his radio production interests and his love for Southern Gospel music together in such a program—The Gospel Greats.


Each weekly program includes a featured artist, with whom numerous short interview segments are aired in fast-paced fashion. Other regular features include "The Gospel Greats Headline Update," song introductions by listeners and the artists, chats by phone with Gospel music DJs about favorite songs in their areas, "Top 10 Back Then" selections, occasional Artist Spotlight segments, recent releases and more.

Heil credits the show's numerous features with setting it apart from any other Southern Gospel program of its type, making it "much more interesting than any music-only program could be, while still being primarily a music program."

Giveaway promotions are also regular features on the program because of their popularity with listeners. In fact, during March the program will be airing details of its big "20th Anniversary Great Annual Giveaway 2000."


Although an entirely Southern Gospel program, The Gospel Greats has become very popular on country stations as well as Southern Gospel stations. In many cases it's the only Gospel music such country stations air.

One major country station that has been airing the broadcast for more than a decade is WSM, Nashville, whose powerful signal can be heard in more than 30 states. Another major country station is the number one-rated station in Baltimore, Maryland, WPOC-FM.

"Being on so many country stations," Heil says, "provides a great outreach for us. Because of the program's production style, it fits right in with the overall sound of a country station. But the music is Gospel. And that means the gospel message in the music is being heard by a whole different audience—perhaps folks who wouldn't dream of turning on their local Southern Gospel station (if such a station exists in their area)."


Heil's wife, Shelia, has become a major behind-the-scenes part of The Gospel Greats. She handles listener correspondence, handles billing and directs a small but very busy office staff. Paul and Shelia have been married since 1982, and she knew what she was getting into: "The first date we ever went on, Paul took me to a concert, where I watched him get interviews."

As proof of The Gospel Greats' popularity with listeners, Heil has been given every major national award currently being offered for radio DJs in the field of Southern Gospel music. He and the program have been voted Fan Awards by Singing News magazine readers every year since 1987. In 1988, he was awarded the prestigious "Lifetime Achievement Award" by the board of the National Quartet Convention—an award given to only one person each year from the entire field of Southern Gospel music. He was honored with the prestigious Marvin Norcross Award in 1991. For his work, Heil also has been included in Marquis' Who's Who in America, Who's Who in Religion, Who's Who in the East as well as Who's Who in Entertainment.

Additionally, Southern Gospel Music Association president Jerry Goff recently presented a special plaque to Heil for "20 Years Of Quality Broadcasting, January 1980–February, 2000."


Heil's interest in, and support for Southern Gospel music led him to become a founding member of the Southern Gospel Music Guild, an organization of industry leaders working together to spread the gospel by exposing Southern Gospel music to more people. He served as the group's president for nine years. The Guild also works to raise the professional standards of the industry, including artists and radio.

Heil also serves on the Advisory Board of the Southern Gospel Music Association, which operates the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. (Some of the equipment used in the early years of producing the program can be seen in the museum.)

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